If you’re a regular reader of Full Sus you’ll know we were all pretty excited about the Origin of Trails, Stillwater Sports’ newest addition to the MTB stage race calendar and a ride conceived to raise funds for trail building and maintenance on the mountains and valleys around Stellenbosch. In an effort to provide an in-depth ride report we got Cycle Training’s Kate Slegrova (one of the top amateur ladies in any local race) and Full Sus’ Seamus Allardice (who is neither a lady nor a top rider).
Day 1: 78km, 2 300m ascent!
Friday morning saw the riders assembled in Church Street and ready to go have some fun on the trails. Standing at the start we knew it wasn’t going to be an easy ride, with lots of climbing and hot temperatures predicted.
Heading out of the neutral zone in town and on to Botmanskop, we were soon taking on the similar climbs to the Die Burger MTB race. Not for long though, soon we were on a virgin territory above the Delaire Wine Estate and headed for my favourite part of race. Newly built single track down into the BanhoekValley, traversing the valley floor on farm roads before climbing the south eastern slopes of the surrounding mountains where the route featured more virgin single track, filled with switchbacks, before heading back towards Botmanskop.
After refilling my water bottle at the second water point, the heat kicked in as did the climbing. We were baking in the sun for some time and had some time to grumble too. I couldn’t help thinking this was not the easy ride to finish a long season I’d hoped for. After the gruelling climb we were soon in Jonkershoek, home ground for me and in shade. My legs caught a second wind, with the help of an energy gel, and I rode up nicely and enjoyed the familiar ‘Never-ending Story’ single track down to the JonkershoekValley floor.
Then we were back in the sun and climbing new single track on the southern side of Jonkershoek. I pushed hard here as didn’t have any more water left and didn’t want to get heat stroke. After the climb, a reward followed with the smooth switchback single track all the way down to the last water point.
Some people thought we were done, but not just yet. They had us climb back up above town and then only to the finish.
I came in 6th in the ladies race in a time of four hours, fifty minutes. Around the lunch tables the conversations turned to complaints about the heat and climbing, though the single track descents and excellent food did lighten the mood.
Before heading back to my guest house, I picked up a Specialized Rumor Expert set-up for me by the Test the Best guys, which gave me something other than great trails to look forward to on day two.
Day 2: 70 km, 1 600m ascent
Everyone was bit tired on the start line after the hard day before. But having the chance to test a Specialized Rumor, ladies specific full suspension bike I was pretty excited. I have always ridden a hard tail and was a bit disappointed when I found out that the Rumor Expert is aluminium and not carbon. The Rumor weighs 2.5kg more than my usual ride, which means a lot more effort is required on the climbs.
We left town and went through Kaymandi with the Songo kids cheering us on, which made it feel quite special. On the first climb I knew I was going to regret the decision to ride the test bike, as I was not able to keep up with people that I beat the previous day. I have quite a competitive nature, so was slightly irritated when people passed me on the up hills where I am usually quite strong. But when we hit Bottelary Hills single track descents I had serious fun and could feel the advantage of full suspension. It actually felt like everyone else was going so slowly…
Now I know why some people never go back to a hard tail after trying a full suspension bike. Even though I know the Bottelary Hills trails fairly well, I enjoyed the route and the beautiful views of TableMountain to the one side and the StellenboschMountains to the other. The Bottelary Hills trails are open year round and I can definitely recommend them.
Friday’s heat was replaced by a proper head wind on Saturday and so I was really looking forward to getting into the forests of ‘Eden’ and the famous ‘G-Spot’ above Stellenbosch, in the lee of the wind. The climb up to the start of ‘G-Spot’ wasn’t easy on the heavy bike with tired legs, but once at the top I really enjoyed the downhill as I didn’t have any one in front of me and could really enjoy the trail bike going full speed with no fear.
Finishing in 6th again, I unfortunately had to head back to Cape Town before the after party at Gino’s.
Day 1: 56km 1 793m
Like Kate, I was hooked up with a Specialized Test the Best bike by Harry and Fanie, but I was lucky enough to spend both days on an S-Works Stumpjumper FSR. Full carbon throughout and equipped with a Sram XX1 drivetrain and Specialized Brain rear suspension technology, I knew there would be no blaming my tools… Though, when Paul Valstar announced that the total climbing had been updated from 2 100m to 2 300m I did feel an urge to look for a second chainring.
Anyway, as Kate has explained, the new, and exclusive to Origin of Trails, single tracks in the Banghoek Conservancy were amazing. Corrie Muller and his team outdid themselves there and deserve every bit of praise they get. But soon my happy thoughts turned dark, as I was left bemoaning the choice of a dentist as route designer. The climb back up Botmanskop was sadistic. Kate, is a very strong rider and underplayed the suffering most average riders would have faced on that climb. And the top section on the hiking trail, complete with stairs, was rather excessive. We could easily have been routed back the same way we came into the valley. Personally, I was tempted to follow the ‘in’ route when we crossed it about three quarters of the way up.
I think that Stillwater need to clearly identify their goals for the Origin of Trails. Do they want it to be as tough as they can make it? Or do they want it to be a fun, but challenging, end to the MTB year? There are understandably teething problems in the first year of any event and the torrential rains eroding much of the route two weeks before the event couldn’t have helped, so I won’t be too critical. After all I did have fun, as did everyone I spoke to – even if they prefixed it with: “It was tough, but…”
Anyway near Jonkershoek I ran out of stoke for climbing (I’ve climbed to the top of ‘Never-ending Story’ before and I didn’t see myself enjoying that slog after four and a bit hours in the saddle.) So I took a shortcut home, hence my wonky distance and altitude. I make no bones about it, if you’re not competitive (which I’m not on a bike), then ride for fun. If you’re not having fun, do something to make it fun. For me that meant bombing down an overgrown plantation road in search of an early shower and a meal that didn’t consist of jelly babies or bananas.
Day 2: 54km 957m
Day two started with the climb through Kaymandi which served to juxtapose the haves with the have nots in a brutal fashion. If any riders were in doubt about supporting Songo.info, the ride through Kaymandi would have quickly changed their minds. Origins donated R5 380 to Songo at the after party, but there is still so much more we can all do and not just in monetary terms. If you’d like to volunteer your time get in touch with Kathy Crabbe at firstname.lastname@example.org, because every little helps.
Back to the riding, at the first water point a group of us decided to opt out of the 70km route and head down to Overgaauw Wine Estate along the 40km route. Sadly for the others, my shortcut transgression from the day before came back to bite us all when we missed a marker and got lost when the route left the banks of the EersteRiver. Unfortunately the only two boys in the scholar’s race, caught us just before we took the wrong turn and we led them astray too. We ended up finding our own way back to the race, via the Annandale Road and the R44, which added just over ten kays to the 40km route.
We re-joined the race at Blaauklippen Wine Estate, and wound our way up the climbs of ‘Eden’ to the last hurrahs of the Origin of Trails: ‘G-Spot’ and the Paul Roos single tracks. I must admit that I’ve never felt as comfortable riding ‘G-Spot’ as I did on the Stumpie, it’s so forgiving and surprisingly nimble. I wouldn’t go for the Brain option if I’d scrape together the cash for it myself, and I might do just that (shout if you’ve got 50k to swap for a second-hand kidney). While I get the attraction of its ‘set and forget functionality’, I don’t like the alarming way it clunks into action. The Fox CTD rear shock is so good that you hardly need the added complication of the Brain (though I’m sure the race snakes and the engineers will disagree), especially if you go for the remote lockout option.
Thanks to Stillwater
Despite the suffering on Day One, the inaugural Pennypinchers Origin of Trails was a great ride. Perhaps next year could feature less challenging climbs to allow the fun single track to really shine, but on the balance of things it was a great way to end off 2013. The Stillwater crew once again lived up to their reputation as world class event organisers, with similes and encouragement at every well stocked water point, gourmet catering at the finish and great coverage by the cameras of the Newsport Media and Jetline Actionphoto teams (even if I hate the way Cherie Vale breezes past up the steepest hill, camera in hand with 10kg of gear on her back…).
Cheers on another successful event!